Winterson, 53, is best known for her 1985 debut novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, published soon after she left Oxford University. She will take up her post in October and teach both undergraduates and MA students, as well as giving four public lectures each year.
Winterson was born in Manchester and brought up in the Lancashire mill town of Accrington by devout Pentecostal adoptive parents. The author of novels, screenplays, children’s writing and essays, her latest book is a memoir entitled Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? A novella, The Daylight Gate, about Lancashire witches, will be published in August. She was made an OBE six years ago for services to literature.
Winterson described the university’s Centre For New Writing as a “serious and exciting place where students are carefully selected and there is a deep interest in what writing can do at an individual level and for the wider culture”. She added: “I am from Manchester and the north is part of me; how I write, as well as who I am.”
Professor Nancy Rothwell, president and vice-chancellor of the university, said: “She is a brilliant novelist, a public intellectual and a writer who makes the case that the arts matter in contemporary Britain. We are certain she will inspire her Manchester students and audiences.”
Winterson contributed to a Guardian guide for writing fictionand gave the following advice: “Turn up for work, discipline allows creative freedom … Be honest with yourself. If you are no good, accept it. If the work you are doing is no good, accept it” and “Take no notice of anyone you don’t respect.”
Winterson says as “a Northern working-class girl, she was not encouraged to be clever”. Her adoptive father worked in a factory and her mother stayed at home. There were only six books in the house, including the Bible and Cruden’s Complete Concordance to the Old and New Testaments. One of the other books was Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, which she says started her life quest of reading and writing.
On her website she notes that the house had no bathroom either, “which was fortunate because it meant that Jeanette could read her books by flashlight in the outside toilet. Reading was not much approved unless it was the Bible.”
At Manchester’s other university – Manchester Metropolitan – the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, is a professor of contemporary poetry.